Education Isn't Just Dollars and Cents

Education isn't just dollars and cents; it goes beyond these finite things. Education fuels and ignites the mind. Ignites the soul. Learning is a transformative experience and there is no way to gauge that against the cost of education -- whether it is higher education, pre-school or K-12. We need to be the passionate voice about all that is good about education. We need to be the advocates that keep the opportunities alive for anyone who wants to learn.

Altruism is a necessity in education. Especially in community colleges -- especially in this community college. Saint Paul College is a public institution with open-access enrollment. We are a community and technical college that is here to serve the people of the City of Saint Paul and the surrounding areas. We're the only two-year public college in Saint Paul. We have been here for over 100 years and our strength lies in those who come to us for their education.

Students' reasons for attending a community college are as varied as the individuals themselves. Not every student pursues a degree, diploma or certificate. Some may only have the intention of taking courses to be able to keep their job, or to get the promotion they want. Some don't plan on working full-time and going to school at the same time for years so that they can get a certificate or diploma. No matter what their plans, we must be inclusive and provide services and opportunities to all students equitably. We cannot -- and should not -- discourage any student based on their personal goals. Success isn't measured by program completion rates alone. A community college's role in society is very necessary -- and also very complex.

I'm reminded of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said to his children about the importance of education and accessibility:

I'm going to work and do everything that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don't ever want you to forget that there are millions of God's children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don't want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.

Perhaps that is what inspires so many of us.

At Saint Paul College, students come first. The College takes pride in serving students -- providing support services and academic choices to allow students to grow as individuals and to achieve their educational goals. As The Huffington Post recently reported, Saint Paul College was again ranked the number one community college in the nation by Washington Monthly magazine. The ranking is based on student retention and completion rates, as reported by the U.S. Department of Education, and our high student engagement scores as measured by the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). Our students have again rated the College significantly higher than other institutions on five benchmarks important to students' college experiences and educational outcomes, including active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, student effort, academic challenge, and support for learners.

Education is not a dry, dispassionate pursuit for the majority of our students. A higher education for them is not just a means to an end. Many of our students are first-generation college students. Many are immigrants or of immigrant families. Many of our students are pursuing a dream -- not just straight out of high school -- but after years of doing a job that kept food on their family's table, but was not necessarily fulfilling for themselves. As quaint as it may seem, Saint Paul College's slogan of "Start here. Go anywhere." rings true for so many of our students. One student even told us that she kept throwing our Saint Paul College magazines away, but the "Start here. Go anywhere." just stuck in their mind. And then one day, when she got the next magazine and saw the "Start here. Go anywhere." she didn't throw it away -- and took a chance on going back to school. She said her teenage children were never so proud her. That's what makes us strive even harder as faculty and staff, to keep this college going, these students' dreams alive.

Some say you can't pay the bills with altruism. Or idealism. True. But you can't be an educational institution devoid of the creative force within people. As educators, our duty and obligation is one of a higher calling; ours is to give each student the chance to find for themselves how education will open up opportunities for themselves, or as Dr. King said, to become what "they ought to be." Nothing is greater for educators than to see learning bring new possibilities to the individual. We know success is measured in so many different ways, and its meaning is as diverse as the body of students who grace our campus.

I'm a proponent for keeping college costs affordable for students. Education cannot be for the privileged and wealthy alone. We must ensure, as a community and technical college, that our doors and enrollment remain open and affordable to all. I'm a fierce advocate for funding public education as well. As president of Saint Paul College, I am, of course, charged with fiscal responsibility for this institution. I am also charged with moving this college forward, to keep up with technology and the needs of business and industry. We have the benefit of being a state funded non-profit institution. We aren't looking to get rich on the tuition paid by our students. Students must, of course, be responsible not only for their current finances, but also for their financial future. As a public educational institution, we must be as resourceful as our students in finding the dollars to help support their needs and the College's needs as well, without forfeiting our educational mission. Our goal is to keep the doors open and allow us to provide -- and be -- that solid resource for so many members of the community around us.

Providing the recreative experience for the human being is of fundamental value to educators. It's what brings us back day after day, with renewed purpose and the ability to focus on the needs of our students and what is necessary to give them tools to also think critically, the ability to apply what they've learned and the courage to always reach beyond the invisible barriers that life throws their way. We want our students to become part of the greater good. That's what makes the United States so great.